Sometimes, you look at the world and wonder if things are getting better. We live in a diverse society, and globalization is only making it easier for everyone to come, work, and live together. You’d think forms of media would have to adjust accordingly to accommodate all of these people and begin to offer equal representation. While things aren’t great yet, 2016 was clearly the year when they began to turn around.
I mean, think about it. This year, three of the biggest releases all can be held up as examples of developers doing the right thing. We’re seeing games become more inclusive than ever. And, best of all, it’s happening in a natural way. These games having these options doesn’t take away from the experience or force notions on us. It just means the in-game worlds match what we see when we head out into the real world.
Watch Dogs 2 is one of the biggest and best examples of 2016’s diversity. Our hero is Marcus, a likeable young man who’s fighting to make San Francisco, and perhaps even the world, a better and more equitable place. He’s funny, smart, caring, and brave. He also happens to be African American. He’s joined by Sitara, a young woman who’s basically DedSec’s PR genius. She’s amazing at getting the word out there about the group, creative, sly, and brilliant. She’s also Indian. Horatio is basically the head of DedSec, who keeps everyone together and organized. He was smart enough to work for Nudle, Watch Dogs 2’s version of Google. He’s also African American. The most important character in one of 2016’s biggest games and two of his four allies are people of color. Best of all, they’re not written as though that’s the most important thing about any of them. This is huge.
Pokemon Sun and Moon is another step forward. Coming from a Japanese developer like Game Freak, Pokemon games tend to feature casts full of people who have light skin. People of color are few and far between. Prior to this installment, the only gym leaders who were people of color were the Unova region’s Leonora, Iris, and Marlon and Kalos region’s Grant and Olympia. The only rival who was a person of color was Iris, from Pokemon X and Y. In Pokemon Sun and Moon, there’s a much healthier and more diverse mix. Our rival, Hau, and his grandfather Hala, the first Kahuna, are people of color. Our own in-game mother has a skin color that isn’t exactly white. The population of Alola’s islands as a whole are more diverse, with all different shades of skin colors. Some of this could be attributed to the island setting and people who have tans, but it’s obvious people like Olivia, Hala, Hau, and Kiawe are representing different backgrounds.
Even Dishonored 2 contributes to 2016’s diversity. Arkane Studios could have had us only controlling Corvo again. We could have followed our favorite, supernatural assassin around again, and that would have been great. But, it instead decided to give us two sides of the story. It made Empress Emily, his daughter, a playable character too. Each side has its owns perks. You get a fuller, richer experience if you go through both. They compliment each other well. Instead of feeling like her story is forced in for the sake of offering a woman’s perspective, it’s meant to be there and makes the experience as a whole perfect.
The world is a scary place, and we aren’t always kind to each other. People don’t always get the representation they want or deserve. At least in 2016’s video games, we’ve seen some progress. Three of the biggest titles released this year make efforts to include women and/or people of color, and do so in a natural way. That’s huge.